|The Edificio Central|
The University of Navarra is a catholic (ie not Catholic) university which was founded by and operates under the prelature of Opus Dei. The founding principles of Opus Dei (´The Work´) set the tone of the university and a great many staff - possibly the majority - belong to The Work. I have never met anyone at the decanal level or above who is not a member. In theory this need not be the case and would certainly conflict with the equal opportunities legislation so prominent in Europe. But, I guess, there are ways and means to ensure that the university remains in the grip of this powerful and very rich international organisation.
The university is located in Pamplona, Navarra in the North of Spain, just below the Basque country. I have been visiting since 1991. Naturally, as a fellow-traveller in the sense that I am a Roman Catholic and a fairly conservative one, I have been curious about Opus Dei. While I have never considered joining I have enquired, met people and attended a few events. I find the writings of the founder - the relatively fast-tracked Saint Josemaria - anodyne and uninspiring. People who have left the work report badly on him - perhaps they are biased - and I hear some unpleasant things about the work, even from people still active in it. I was exposed to their methods on my first visit when, after expressing some negative views about the late, publicity hungry and fairly disastrous Pope Jonh Paul II over lunch - also fast-tracked to sainthood by his own procedure - I was told an English Priest of The Work would like to meet me for coffee. This turned out to be to corect me in my ways and help me to understand the error of them; someone had reported on my conversation. It also concerns me greatly that The Work - uniquely in the Roman Catholic Church - ordains its own priests. Claims of secthood and culthood are always rebuffed but, if it is not already those things, then it soon will be despite its outward tactic of unswerving loyalty to The Pope.
On the other hand, I have been shown nothing but kindness at the University of Navarra and count some of its members - male and female - amongst my best friends. I had no hesitation in oappointing a coupe I know well as godparents of one of my sons and I have no questions about their faith and good intentions.
I am writing this from Pamplona and what has impressed me most during my week here has been the students. Not necessarily the ones I have met but the ones who make a beeline for the Oratorio on the ground floor of the Science Faculty Building to visit the Blessed Sacrament. Every building has an Oratotio - a chapel - and I make it my own habit to ´visit´on the way to my office. It reminds me I am a Catholic and it is something I cannot do in my own university. But in all my years of coming here and my many visits I do not recall fighting past queues of students to get a glimpse of the tabernacle. Young men and women, ordinary students, who are unafraid to express their faith, groups of friends - a few young men pushing each other about on the way across the campus go to the Oratorio together, all genuflect and then walk on; another breaks from a group of friends to do the same and then runs to re-join the group. I find this remarkable, undemonstratve and sincere. If there is a spirit of Opus Dei then, while I will not be joining to find out more, this is it to me: making faith normal and leading a good life.